DUBAI: A Chinese-owned oil tanker was attacked off Yemen on Saturday by ballistic missiles fired by Houthi rebels, who have intensified strikes on Red Sea shipping, the US military said.

The Panamanian-flagged, Chinese-owned and oper­a­ted Huang Pu issued a distress call but did not request assistance, US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement on social media platform X early on Sunday.

“No casualties were reported, and the vessel resumed its course,” the statement said.

The rebels, who control much of Yemen’s Red Sea coast, have launched dozens of missile and drone strikes on shipping over the past four months, actions they say are in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

CENTCOM and the British navy’s United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations (UKMTO) said a fire had broken out on board the ship but was extinguished within 30 minutes.

US forces engage six unmanned aerial vehicles over southern Red Sea

The Marinetraffic tracking website later had the vessel sailing out of the Red Sea into the Gulf of Aden heading for its next port of call which, according to maritime security agency Ambrey, was New Mangalore in India.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which UKMTO said struck 23 nautical miles west of the Yemeni port of Mokha.

CENTCOM said Houthi rebels had launched four anti-ship ballistic missiles in the Red Sea near the Huang Pu before a fifth hit the vessel. “The Houthis attacked the MV Huang despite previously stating they would not attack Chinese vessels,” it said.

According to Ambrey, “the tanker’s registration details, including name and operator, had been changed as recently as February 2024”. It had been registered in 2019 by British firm Union Maritime Ltd, Ambrey said, and another vessel affiliated with the same company had previously been targeted by the Houthis.

Meanwhile, US forces also engaged six Houthi unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over the southern Red Sea after the group launched four anti-ship ballistic missiles toward a Chinese-owned oil tanker.A fifth missile was fired towards the oil tanker, which issued a distress call, the Central Command said, adding that no casualties were reported in the incident and a fire on board was extinguished. US forces then engaged six UAVs, five of which crashed into the Red Sea, and one flew inland into Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, the Central Command said.

Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2024

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